Alexandra Friedman | Life's great balancing act

Friedom of Speech | One hundred and twenty-nine reasons to leave it all behind and study abroad

· February 3, 2014, 11:04 pm   ·  Updated February 3, 2014, 11:05 pm

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Alexandra Friedman
Friedom of Speech

I was in Israel for 129 days. That meant 129 sunsets, 129 breakfasts, 129 walks and 129 opportunities to do something new and exciting.

One year ago, I was hesitant to study abroad. Even after I applied at the last minute, I knew that in all likelihood I would stay here at Penn where I was comfortable. I felt that I needed to obtain leadership positions in my extracurricular activities and focus on my grades, sentiments with which I’m sure many of you can identify. I was happy, so why leave the comfort of my nest?

Whether by act of divine intervention or simply because other applicants were more qualified, I didn’t obtain the leadership positions I had desired, the ones that would have forced me to stay at Penn. In terms of going abroad, the only thing holding me back was fear — fear of the unknown, fear of being alone and fear of losing my place on the career track. Would I be able to handle being far from home for such an extended period of time? Would I be as happy there as I was here?

I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. What I did know was that if I didn’t go, I would always wonder, “What if?” Unwilling to accept that fate, I purchased a ticket for the 27th of August, confirming that I would not be returning to Penn for the fall semester of my junior year.

I arrived at the airport trembling, but following the sage wisdom of Theodor Geisel — known to most of us as Dr. Seuss — I assured myself, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the [girl] who’ll decide where to go.”

Once my feet hit the ground, the fears melted away and were rapidly replaced with the excitement for my new adventure.

One of the aspects of life abroad that you will most immediately observe is that the pace of life is noticeably slower. People walk instead of run, sip instead of gulp. They enjoy a meal and don’t ask for the check before dessert has arrived.

You’ll become accustomed to taking an afternoon siesta, or perhaps setting aside time in the morning to savor your coffee. You won’t be rushing from an OCR interview to your club sport practice, although you may be rushing to catch a train, bus or plane that you booked at the last minute.

I can say confidently that I took in every sunset, devoured each Israeli-style breakfast and relished each walk around my home of four and a half months. I went to the bus station without a destination in mind, embracing a more spontaneous lifestyle than the one we have here at Penn.

Going abroad certainly isn’t perfect. At some point you will feel lonely, homesick, confused and lost. But when these things start to happen, “Don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.”

None of this is to say that the lifestyle we have here isn’t valuable. It is. We work hard and diligently for four years, preparing ourselves for our future careers and lives. Still, we often find ourselves hurrying through life to get to the next success instead of relishing and appreciating the moment. We check our schedules to see when we can fit in lunch with a friend, down our morning coffee en route to class and sign up for more clubs than our schedules permit.

“So,” as Dr. Seuss would say, “be sure where you step, step with great care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)”

What did I learn? It all boils down to balance. Work hard, yes, but also watch the sunset. Enjoy restaurant week not simply for the inexpensive gourmet food, but also for the company. And definitely, definitely, study abroad.

Alexandra Friedman is a College junior from Atlanta, Ga., studying history. Email her at alfrie@sas.upenn.edu or follow her @callme_alfrie.

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